Gary Ablett didn’t end his career the way he hoped but he bowed out a class act.
The Geelong legend — who some believe is the greatest footy player we’ve ever seen — was robbed of his fairytale finish when Richmond beat the Cats 12. 9 (81) to 7.8 (50) in Saturday night’s Grand Final.
Ablett was hugged by his Geelong colleagues as he broke down in tears after his final AFL game.
Even though the retiring star’s heart was breaking, he showed plenty of sportsmanship to put his disappointment aside and go up to Tigers captain Trent Cotchin just before a post-match TV interview and congratulate him on leading Richmond to a third flag in four years.
In his post-match speech, Geelong captain Joel Selwood thanked the “little bald bloke” for his contribution to the game, telling Ablett everyone loved him.
Channel 7 commentator Bruce McAvaney spoke of the “touching scenes” as the 36-year-old was consoled by wife Jordan and son Levi, before both teams gave him a guard of honour to a standing ovation from the crowd.
The Tigers were awesome, showing terrific sportsmanship in delaying their own lap of honour to pay their respects.
Sports broadcaster Shane McInnes tweeted: “Great act of sportsmanship by @Richmond_FC. Have every right to celebrate the flag, yet paused to acknowledge one of the greats of the game in Gary Ablett.”
Channel 7 reporter Nick McCallum wrote: “Showing true class by honouring true class. Wonderful gesture by @Richmond_FC to delay lap of honour to line up to farewell Geelong’s ‘Little Master’ Gary Ablett. A wonderful sign of respect which will last in the memory forever.”
It was a rough night for Ablett from the very beginning, rushed off the Gabba in absolute agony after injuring his shoulder early in the first quarter.
Less than three minutes after the first bounce, Ablett was spotted holding his arm in plenty of pain, before he was taken from the field by a medic.
Replays showed the 36-year-old had landed awkwardly on his left arm after attempting a handball.
McAvaney said: “This is not good for Ablett. He is leaving the ground immediately. You could see him lift his elbow off the ground immediately. This is not a great sight.”
Miraculously, the Little Master returned to the field, fighting through the pain in a desperate attempt to lead the Cats to a premiership.
He suffered another heavy knock in the third quarter and was visibly distressed but again, he ignored his ailment to push on.
Unfortunately, Ablett and Co. were kept quiet by a slick Richmond outfit that added another chapter to its incredible dynasty.